A new facility for rocket construction and launching has been unveiled by Rocket Lab, the latest addition to its expanding empire of rocket manufacturing and launching facilities. While the company’s smaller Electron rockets will continue to be launched from its current launch pads in New Zealand and the United States, a new facility in Virginia will be created to hold and ultimately launch the company’s considerably bigger Neutron launch vehicle.
The new Neutron Production Complex will be built on a 28-acre tract of land within NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, with an interior floor area of roughly 250,000 square feet. The complex will be the first of its kind in the world. The space is significant, but rockets are massive, and Rocket Lab intends to build many of them.
Not only will the vehicle assembly take place on-site, but the specific carbon composites that will be used to construct it will also be produced there. It will be provided in rolls, hot off the composites equivalent of a hot oven, and ready to wrap around Neutron’s 23-foot circumference.
According to Peter Beck, CEO, and founder of Rocket Lab, “the objective here is that the complete launch vehicle would be constructed at that facility.” Beck made the remarks during a media conference call on Monday. “The stage diameter is fairly enormous – we made that choice very early on in the process.” We didn’t want to determine the circumference of the circle by the diameter of the most significant bridge that connects Wallops Island to California.”
Beck remarked about the benefits of the Neutron’s huge diameter back in December, when the device’s specifications were initially made public.
Neutrons will also return to Wallops after delivering their payloads, where they will be reconditioned in the same facility where they were built. Neutrons are the first launch vehicle designed from the ground up for reusability. It’s an all-in-one facility that includes a launch and orbit operations center, and it’s expected to create hundreds of jobs in the surrounding region while further cementing Wallops’s long-standing significance in the space industry.
In a conference call with reporters, Ted Mercer, head of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (and retired USAF Major General) stated that the state had set aside approximately $45 million in funds to expand and improve the Wallops NASA facility, though the money is still making its way through the state legislature.
We have no reason to believe it will not be done and approved by the legislature. We have no reason to believe it will not,” Mercer said, adding that $15 million will go toward the construction of the facility and $30 million will go toward the construction of the new launchpad. Mercer noted that the launch pad would be multi-purpose and not exclusive to Neutron.
Beck went on to say, “We’re trying to break ground here really soon,” since the sooner they can construct one, the sooner they can put it to use.